Protesters Along with Female Dignitaries Greet First Lady

Amiram Barkat and Arnon Regular - Haaretz - May 23, 2005

After First Lady Laura Bush arrived in Israel for a brief visit yesterday, she was met in Jerusalem by Jewish protesters at the Western Wall, who demanded Jonathan Pollard's release, and by Muslim protesters outside the Dome of the Rock, who object to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The local part of her Middle East swing, which began in Jordan on Saturday, comes to an end this morning with a brief visit to a church in Abu Ghosh just outside of Jerusalem before Bush's flight to Egypt.

After a brief welcome ceremony at the airport - and accompanied by Judy Nir-Mozes Shalom, the foreign minister's wife - the First Lady met at the President's Residence in Jerusalem with Gila Katsav, the president's wife, without speaking to reporters. She also met there with women who were invited for the occasion, including Judge Elisheva Barak, wife of the president of the Supreme Court, and Sheila Kurtzer, wife of the American ambassador. Mrs. Katsav gave the First Lady a petition signed by 13 MKs asking for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard's release.

From the President's Residence, she went to the Western Wall, where she was met by several dozen angry Jewish demonstrators protesting on behalf of Pollard. Her Secret Service agents appeared tense and hurried the entourage along. The First Lady skipped the planned visit to the Hasmonean Tunnel nearby, and made do with a briefing at its entrance before placing a note in the cracks of the Western Wall. From there, her entourage moved on to the Temple Mount, where Israeli officials who had accompanied her were replaced by Waqf (Muslim Trust) officials Adnan Husseini and Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, in addition to Palestinian security officers and Israeli police.

The First Lady's group was met by a handful of protesters at the entrance to the golden-domed Dome of the Rock. The protesters said they were from Hizb al-Tahrir, an Islamic group active in Haram affairs, who chanted anti-American slogans and shouted protests against U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and against U.S. treatment of suspected Al-Qaeda operatives in Guantanamo Bay. Waqf guards hustled out the demonstrators and the Israeli police also got involved, detaining some of them.

Eyewitnesses said that Bush, who was wearing a black scarf around her head, was surrounded by security forces and was kept away from the protesters, with no danger posed to her. Nonetheless, her guards swept her out of the plaza.

Hizb al-Tahrir is a London-based group mostly active in the Muslim countries of the former Soviet Union, which promotes revolutions against Arab regimes for the sake of installing Islamic regimes. Some reports from Uzbekistan say the recent rioting there was instigated by activists from the group.

From the Western Wall Plaza, Bush went to Jericho, where she was hosted by Hanan Ashrawi and taken to the Jericho archaeological digs in the north of the town. That part of her visit passed peacefully.

After Jericho, the First Lady returned to Jerusalem for a visit to Yad Vashem, where she was accompanied by Mrs. Katsav. The visitor showed much interest in the personal stories on display at the new historical museum there. She and Mrs. Katsav laid wreaths in the Ohel Yizkor sanctuary before Bush headed to her West Jerusalem hotel.

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